By Bob Corbett
Istanbul is a fantastic city. I donít really know what I expected, anyone I have ever heard from or talked with who had been here just raved about it. But I wasnít prepared for it. I have traveled a good deal and have my ranking of very favorite cities. The first rank had Vienna, Paris, Rome, Boston, and Barcelona. Some other high ranking places were Prague and Budapest and down a bit was New York. But Istanbul now flies high into the first five but itís yet still too early to know just how far up that list it goes.
I would think one could have an excellent first visit here and really do the city some justice in a 4-6 day trip. But that would be a busy trip with each day filled with exciting and mind-boggling activities and be quite exhausting.
That just isnít the way Sally and I travel. Rather, we travel slowly, only doing a bit each day, then settling into the chosen restaurant of the day for our only meal out, and retiring to our balcony for wine, nut, raisins and sometimes even cookies. We will manage in 12 days what more busy travelers could do in four. We have no complaints. Quite the opposite. We would prefer to do in 12 days what others could do in 4-6 and just enjoy our balcony living and slow pace.
I think that until this trip I had never before SOUGHT OUT a balcony. I know my daughter Janie and I had one once in Naples back in 1989 when she was a college student. She called me to it to watch a group of transvestite prostitutes having a knock down drag out fight and she said -- wait till I tell my friends where my father took me!!! Sally and I had at least one balcony in Ireland last year and did use it.
But, I had always promised myself that were I to return to Santorini I wanted a balcony overlooking the caldera if anyway possible, and even before that we lucked into one in Athens. So, on THIS trip we have not had a room WITHOUT a balcony and sought one in every case save Athens when it was a surprise and a delight.
However. I really doubt we will have one in Barcelona, but weíll see.
Yesterday we visited the phenomenal Aya Sophia -- Hagia Sophia -- St. Sophia, call it what you will. It was just marvelous and since many of you on this list are from St. Louis, I can tell you that the magnificent St. Louis Cathedral on Lindell is much modeled after St. Sophia, especially with all the Byzantine tile. St. Sophia is larger and older. The oldest parts of Hagia Sophia going back 1500 years.
Weíve also been to the famous Blue Mosque since Iíve written and that was also a marvelous building, but not quite as impressive to me as the much older Hagia Sophia.
Hagia Sophia plays an important part in my own intellectual development. In elementary school history was taught as mainly facts and dates and places. Very little emphasis was placed on understanding the movement of history, the logic of history, history as development and story. However, at McBride High School in St. Louis I lucked into a better version of history from one teacher in my freshman year and history changed forever. I came to see it as the story and causal understanding of development of this or that place, movement, nation or person.
With that solid foundation in place thanks to that one teacher, I then stumbled upon two of the most influential books of my life -- Herbert J. Muellerís The Uses of The Past and his other masterpiece The Loom of History.
There Hagia Sophia was at the center of the story, the beginning and edifice around which Mueller wove his exciting tale of early civilizations and development.
Thus it was deeply moving for me to be inside Hagia Sophia (which is how Mueller spelled the name), and when Sally and I were standing against the rail of the balcony high up on the second story, I just had one of those moments of terribly deep emotion which shook me to the core.
Oh, me oh me, THE GRAND BAZAAR. When we returned yesterday for our third time there I just burst out laughing. I had been misspelling it hilariously and apologize. No time for a spell check and such, and I will avoid that here.
[Later note: As I now go through these e-mail notes in order to mark them up into html and put them on my web page I am simply ASTONISHED at the number of spelling, grammar, typos and other errors I was making in the e-mail notes. I was always typing quickly, trying to get a note out in Ĺ hour or so, and the notes were just filled with errors. I hope I have caught most of them in this re-visit for my web page, but if you note continued errors please let me know any you see and Iíll correct them. Thanks!]
However, we had another great visit, (to the Bazaar) but mainly to go THROUGH it and find that little restaurant I mentioned a few days ago that is in the deep working class section beneath the Bazaar. Amazingly, we went right to it. I got us through the maze of the Bazaar and out the bottom side and Sally recognized the turn-off street. We went in and were treated like celebrities by the cooks and staff but with great curiosity and stares by the patrons. I had worn my jeans yesterday (first time) since we were going into Hagia Sophia, so I was happy I didnít have on my shorts in this bastion of conservative Shiía Islam.
The meal was really delicious, but very simple standard Turkish foods. We got a large salad much like a Greek salad, and large buns with that. The we each had a large green pepper stuffed with ground meat (magnificently spiced) and rice. We split an order of meatballs and also a chicken breast smothered in cheese and mashed potatoes. I actually drank mineral water. (I normally reserve water for bathing not drinking) and Sally had an orange Fanta.
We could barely stand we were so stuffed and the bill was not even 16 dollars for all that food and a very generous tip.
From there we went down, down, down into the market place where the Turkish people shop and didnít see a tourist at all. One entire block was nothing but stores with thread and twines and knitting supplies, and then a covered bazaar almost on the seafront that was filled with spices and teas, stall after stall after stall for about a block and half area. There were many spices I had never seen or heard of and it just smelled so good in that bazaar.
We finally came out on the waterfront near the port and knew we faced a very long hill back up -- we had been wandering downhill all the way from the Grand Bazaar. But, we knew this waterfront street and there is a tram right to Hagia Sophia at the top of the hill, thus we splurged the 80 cents for tram tickets and rode up. From there it is just a three block walk home and we stopped at a grocery. Since we had spent almost nothing all day long we treated ourselves to a rather expensive bottle of wine and it turned out to be the best wine weíd had in Turkey, but not better than the Greek wine Metsova which we had had for every bottle of wine we had in Greece.
Today we are in another part of town, across the Sea of Marmara, and walking on a long street that is a walking mall but has a tram, an old one, running on it. We plan a very quiet day of just walking about and then will end up right at the front of the Grand Bazaar. There is a mosque there and a block long walkway leading to the Bazaar. This is shady and lined with benches and we like to sit there for hours and people watch, comment on fashions and such and just enjoy the delectable breezes.
Bob Corbett firstname.lastname@example.org